Why the Hell Not: Sunday Night Breaking News – the USS John S. McCain Collides with a Tanker Off of Singapore

SINGAPORE (AP) — A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer collided with a tanker early Monday in waters east of Singapore and the Strait of Malacca, and at least 10 sailors are missing.

The Navy said five others were hurt.

The USS John S. McCain sustained damage on its port side aft, or left rear, from the collision with the Alnic MC that happened at 5:24 a.m., the Navy’s 7th Fleet said. It wasn’t immediately clear if the oil and chemical tanker sustained damage or casualties in the collision.

The Navy said Osprey aircraft and Seahawk helicopters from the USS America were assisting. It also said tugboats and Singaporean naval and coast guard vessels were in the area to render assistance.

Malaysia’s navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin tweeted that two ships as well as aircraft from its navy and air force have been deployed to help look for the missing U.S. sailors.

I will simply note that the President has neither made a public statement, nor issued a tweet in regard to any US service members death since his remarks about Chief Petty Officer Owens death in Yemen at the State of the Union. He did, however, say this earlier this evening:

Updated at 11:00 PM EDT

There is already speculation bouncing around social media that this second collision of an Arleigh Burke class destroyer within two months may be an act of cyber warfare. And, as a result, we are facing a new and very dangerous threat. It was recently reported that the Russians have developed a way to spoof a ship’s GPS.

Reports of satellite navigation problems in the Black Sea suggest that Russia may be testing a new system for spoofing GPS, New Scientist has learned. This could be the first hint of a new form of electronic warfare available to everyone from rogue nation states to petty criminals.

On 22 June, the US Maritime Administration filed a seemingly bland incident report. The master of a ship off the Russian port of Novorossiysk had discovered his GPS put him in the wrong spot – more than 32 kilometres inland, at Gelendzhik Airport.

After checking the navigation equipment was working properly, the captain contacted other nearby ships. Their AIS traces – signals from the automatic identification system used to track vessels – placed them all at the same airport. At least 20 ships were affected.

While the incident is not yet confirmed, experts think this is the first documented use of GPS misdirection – a spoofing attack that has long been warned of but never been seen in the wild.

Until now, the biggest worry for GPS has been it can be jammed by masking the GPS satellite signal with noise. While this can cause chaos, it is also easy to detect. GPS receivers sound an alarm when they lose the signal due to jamming. Spoofing is more insidious: a false signal from a ground station simply confuses a satellite receiver. “Jamming just causes the receiver to die, spoofing causes the receiver to lie,” says consultant David Last, former president of the UK’s Royal Institute of Navigation.

Much more at the link.

Updated at 11:24 PM EDT

The President has now issued an appropriate response to tonight’s maritime collision involving the USS John S. McCain.

130 replies
  1. 1
    Adam L Silverman says:

    And we have this to look forward to tomorrow:

  2. 2
    Yarrow says:

    Trump is such an asshole. I wonder what members of the military make of him at this point.

    Hoping for the best for the injured and missing.

  3. 3
    Keith P. says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Something tells me that the path forward is “I had a tremendous victory in November. Nobody thought I could do it.”

  4. 4
    Yarrow says:

    @Adam L Silverman: The media will be in full “He became President” slobber mode if he can successfully read the teleprompter and not veer off script.

    The bar is so low it might as well be underground.

  5. 5
    lamh36 says:

    I’ll be doing my best to NOT watch him speak. I may have said it before, but I try my best to NEVER have that mans’ voice in my ear for anything longer than seconds.

    So I look forward to a recap and of course tweet of what he says.

    Adam from your understanding of the Generals in charge, what side do they fall on when it comes to sending more troops to Afghanistan?

    Shorter question: boots on the ground or just amped up air war?

  6. 6
    sharl says:

    Someone speculated that Trump might have just heard “…McCain…” from the reporter shouting the question, so maybe assumed it was a question related to ACA repeal or his relations with the Senator; not that Trump isn’t equally capable of being dismissive even had he heard the complete question…

  7. 7
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    My thoughts are with the sailors and their families.

  8. 8
    oatler. says:

    The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down…

  9. 9
    🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka The Hope of the Universe) 🗳 🌷 says:

    In response to my question about the USS John S. McCain collision @POTUS at @WhiteHouse South Portico replies “that’s too bad.”

    Trump’s pissed at us all for ruining his time pretending to be President. It was all fun and games when he got to give speeches to his adoring thugs at rallys or give lip-service to honoring veterans who have died because of his ill-conceived orders.

    Now he’s throwing a tantrum.

  10. 10
    Yarrow says:

    From Adam’s update:

    While the incident is not yet confirmed, experts think this is the first documented use of GPS misdirection – a spoofing attack that has long been warned of but never been seen in the wild.

    Ugh. I was wondering if something might be going on since it seemed like an odd collision just recently happened. That’s awful.

  11. 11
    Adam L Silverman says:

    I just put an update up top. It is too damn coincidental that the Russians have developed the ability to spoof GPS far from their home soil. Most recent example appears to have been on the Black Sea. But it is exceedingly strange that two Arleigh Burke class destroyers would have similar accidents within two months of each other.

  12. 12
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    There is already speculation bouncing around social media that this second collision of an Arleigh Burke class destroyer within two months may be an act of cyber warfare. And, as a result, we are facing a new and very dangerous threat. It was recently reported that the Russians have developed a way to spoof a ship’s GPS.

    Yikes, until I got to that last sentence, I had assumed the suspect would be China, given the location of the two collisions and, if I understand correctly, China’s desire to expand their influence and authority in international waters

  13. 13
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    One of his staff expropriated the phone.

  14. 14
    JCJ says:

    Where is Amir? This happened suspiciously close to Kuala Lampur…..

  15. 15
    J R in WV says:

    The man is a monster, he has no emotional heart.

    “That’s too bad…” ? after our sailors were lost overboard?

    Fuck, Trump should get a chance to see how long he can tread Water! Monster!

    And how does another Navy ship do this AGAIN? They just fired a CO, his XO, and the senior chief from the Fitzgerald last week!

  16. 16
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @oatler.: That’s November 10th. Hopefully nothing traumatic happens on the 9th this year and I don’t miss the post.

  17. 17

    speculation bouncing around social media

    I trust you’ll report back to us when something more solid comes around.

  18. 18
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Yarrow: Coincidence takes a lot of planning.

  19. 19
    AliceBlue says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    Question: Even if the McCain’s GPS was compromised, shouldn’t their radar have picked up the presence of the merchant ship?

  20. 20
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Given that he basically blew the whole thing off to a reporter, the best paid, using tax dollars caddy in history had not choice but to take action to get his boss out of the sand trap.

  21. 21
    Mike J says:

    I doesn’t matter if GPS was working or not. Every ship has lookouts on duty, and US navy ships have way more than one.

    Rule number one[1] at sea is avoid collisions.

    [1] Actually rule number 7 in COLREGS, but number one in our hearts.

  22. 22
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Major Major Major Major: There is not speculation regarding the ability of the Russians to spoof the GPS. I’ve linked to an article about it in the update. And here’s a BBC interview with the subject matter expert from Texas.

  23. 23
    Yarrow says:

    @JCJ: He was just in the thread below.

    @Adam L Silverman: Yeah…

  24. 24
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @AliceBlue: You would think. Same thing with the Fitzgerald’s. Hence the speculation and concern that GPS spoofing may be involved in one or both.

  25. 25
    Mike J says:

    @Adam L Silverman: It was daytime in one of the busiest waterways in the world. Anyone relying on gps alone to maintain separation should be keelhauled.

  26. 26
    geg6 says:

    Totally off topic but if you haven’t seen the Foo Fighters rickrolling a festival crowd, you haven’t lived. It’s epic.


  27. 27
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    I’m a bit dubious about the GPS spoofing claims. I don’t know enough about GPS to refute them definitively, but the information available is sparse enough that it doesn’t support anything definitively either. The evidence seems to be that some people saw some stuff that they didn’t understand but it could be GPS spoofing. The Black Sea location suggests ground or sea stations doing the spoofing, but is there evidence of Russian ships nearby the Pacific collisions? I saw a report that the ships having problems are from the same base. If I were an accident investigator, I’d look to maintenance and training practices there first.

  28. 28
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Another skipper whose career is over.

  29. 29
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mike J: Tracking.

  30. 30
    sm*t cl*de says:

    At least they didn’t give that name to an aircraft carrier.

  31. 31
    Amir Khalid says:

    I’ve heard that once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but three times is enemy action.

    I see the Royal Malaysian Navy is involved in the search and rescue op. Did the collision take place in Malaysian waters? Does it suggest anything about the location of the Russian GPS-spoofing capability? (If that’s what it was.)

  32. 32
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: From the New Scientist article I linked to above:

    Until now, the biggest worry for GPS has been it can be jammed by masking the GPS satellite signal with noise. While this can cause chaos, it is also easy to detect. GPS receivers sound an alarm when they lose the signal due to jamming. Spoofing is more insidious: a false signal from a ground station simply confuses a satellite receiver. “Jamming just causes the receiver to die, spoofing causes the receiver to lie,” says consultant David Last, former president of the UK’s Royal Institute of Navigation.

    Todd Humphreys, of the University of Texas at Austin, has been warning of the coming danger of GPS spoofing for many years. In 2013, he showed how a superyacht with state-of-the-art navigation could be lured off-course by GPS spoofing. “The receiver’s behaviour in the Black Sea incident was much like during the controlled attacks my team conducted,” says Humphreys.

    Humphreys thinks this is Russia experimenting with a new form of electronic warfare. Over the past year, GPS spoofing has been causing chaos for the receivers on phone apps in central Moscow to misbehave. The scale of the problem did not become apparent until people began trying to play Pokemon Go. The fake signal, which seems to centre on the Kremlin, relocates anyone nearby to Vnukovo Airport, 32 km away. This is probably for defensive reasons; many NATO guided bombs, missiles and drones rely on GPS navigation, and successful spoofing would make it impossible for them to hit their targets.

    But now the geolocation interference is being used far away from the Kremlin. Some worry that this means that spoofing is getting easier. GPS spoofing previously required considerable technical expertise. Humphreys had to build his first spoofer from scratch in 2008, but notes that it can now be done with commercial hardware and software downloaded from the Internet.

    Nor does it require much power. Satellite signals are very weak – about 20 watts from 20,000 miles away – so a one-watt transmitter on a hilltop, plane or drone is enough to spoof everything out to the horizon.

    If the hardware and software are becoming more accessible, nation states soon won’t be the only ones using the technology. This is within the scope of any competent hacker. There have not yet been any authenticated reports of criminal spoofing, but it should not be difficult for criminals to use it to divert a driverless vehicle or drone delivery, or to hijack an autonomous ship. Spoofing will give everyone affected the same location, so a hijacker would just need a short-ranged system to affect one vehicle.

    But Humphreys believes that spoofing by a state operator is the more serious threat. “It affects safety-of-life operations over a large area,” he says. “In congested waters with poor weather, such as the English Channel, it would likely cause great confusion, and probably collisions.”

    Last says that the Black Sea incident suggests a new device capable of causing widespread disruption, for example, if used in the ongoing dispute with Ukraine. “My gut feeling is that this is a test of a system which will be used in anger at some other time.”


  33. 33
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sm*t cl*de: It is named for Senator McCain’s father and grandfather, both admirals.

  34. 34
    dmsilev says:

    GPS spoofing doesn’t really make much sense; you use GPS to tell where you are, not where all the ships in the immediate neighborhood are with respect to you. Spoofing could cause a ship to hit a shoal or something, but it’s hard to see how it could steer one ship into another.

  35. 35
    mike in dc says:

    If the cyberwarfare of a foreign power had some responsibility for not one but two fatal(here’s hoping the missing are found alive so I’m wrong about that) accidents, that’s one hell of a casus belli to take a hard pass on. If the Cold War were still on, I’d half expect a Russian sub to go “missing” some time in the next few months.

  36. 36
    Mike in NC says:

    Trump favors sailors who don’t have collisions and rent his properties. The rest are losers.

  37. 37
    sharl says:

    Defense News reporter and former Navy ship navigator David Larter questions the speculation about a cyber attack on the ship’s GPS, and said that even if such an attack occurred, there are built-in redundant systems, crew standing watch, and a crew trained to run the ship without cyber-susceptible navigational components.

    Unless McCain was dead in the water, which it isn’t, a cyber attack wouldn’t account for it. Sailors know how to drive a ship w/o GPS.

    Some speculation that this is a cyber attack on the GPS system. That would be a very poor excuse.

    It may have still been pretty dark out; Larter’s response:…the Navy does not rely solely on GPS. They should have paper charts, hand-held nav systems.

    Finally, not hitting other ships is a basic expectation in the USN. Unless they had a full-on EW attack, but then we’re in crazy town.

    To correct, it was still dark. Still, unless the radars were broken and the hand-held GPS was denied, and it was low visibility, not likely

    Everyone’s a critic:

    Craig Hooper‏ @NextNavy

    Listing the Navy’s major surface ship mishaps since FY ’09: Fitzgerald (DDG collision); Antietam (CG grounding); Georgia (SSBN grounding) 1

    USS Louisiana (SSBN collision w/MSC vessel); USS Tortuga (LSD allision–$2.5 million); USS Taylor (FFG grounding–$5 million) 2

    USS Guardian (MCM grounding-total loss); USS Jacksonville (SSN collision–at least $2.5 million) 3

    USS Montpelier/USS San Jacinto (SSN/CG collision–over $80 million dollars in damages); USS Porter (DDG collision–$50 million dollars) 4

    USS Essex (LHD collision w/MSC vessel–$2,5 million); USS Port Royal (CG grounding–about $50 million in damage) 5

    And finally, USS Hartford/USS New Orleans (SSN/LPD collision–$120 million dollars of damage to the sub alone) 6

    Let’s also include the cigarette-sparked $70 million-dollar USS George Washington (CVN) fire and the USS Miami (SSN) arson 7

    David B Larter‏ @DavidLarter

    Replying to @NextNavy
    When you put it like that, looks like a trend…


  38. 38
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Yep. Read and listened again. One guy at UT Austin promoting his pet theory. Something happening to 20 ships should be looked into, but not time to draw conclusions yet. I’d like to know more about the Moscow claims. I’ve seen too many claims of mystery weapons not to want more information.

  39. 39
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    Also noting the comments above that GPS isn’t the whole story. I had a similar incident when a screw came loose in an electronic direction finder in the plane I was flying. The person with me started freaking out, but I just said “Look at the ground.” It was an area I knew well, and I was better at pilotage than he was.

  40. 40
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: There’s a reason it is called a secret weapon…//

  41. 41
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    As a young 2LT, I arrived at a battalion that was in the process of being completely reworked because a soldier had his head crushed during an exercise. Someone omitted a step in a procedure and someone else died. The battalion commander, the battery commander, and the platoon sergeant lost their jobs over it. The LT who was in charge of the firing point wasn’t on site when it happened, so he suffered no adverse consequences. Our unit was, thereafter, extremely safety conscious – to the extent that I, who wasn’t there for the fuck-up, thought we were too cautious.

  42. 42
    p.a. says:

    @mike in dc:

    If the Cold War were still on

    Who says it isn’t?

  43. 43
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: This is why I’m surprised by today’s incident. Yes, accidents happen no matter one’s level of vigilance, otherwise we’d call them on purposes. But two months after the USS Fitzgerald’s collision I would have expected everything would have been tightened up among the surface warfare fleet just as a reflexive response.

  44. 44
    sharl says:

    Accompanying this tweet is a map showing roughly where the collision occurred.

    Mike Yeo 杨启铭‏ @TheBaseLeg

    For those not familiar with reading nautical charts, this (grey marker) is approximately where the USS John S. McCain collision happened

  45. 45
    Mike in NC says:

    Back in prehistoric times ships relied on LORAN to get around, and if all else failed we were trained in using book-based manual celestial navigation (very slow, tedious work but reasonably reliable).

  46. 46
    🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka The Hope of the Universe) 🗳 🌷 says:

    OT: I wished I would have made solar filters for my binoculars.

  47. 47
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Adam L Silverman: But that’s not evidence for anything, just an invitation to speculation.

  48. 48
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I am not a navy guy, but trying to avoid hitting other ships should be a thing.

  49. 49
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    That it’s the ship named after Senator McCain’s grandfather makes one wonder about that.

  50. 50
    Mike J says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    The LT who was in charge of the firing point wasn’t on site when it happened, so he suffered no adverse consequences.

    In the navy, even if the captain were ashore when this happened, he’d be gone. The captain is responsible.

    @sharl: Here’s a ship tracking site with the last update from Alnic MC, the tanker involved. Zoom out one notch and you can see Singapore. You can also see a shitload of other blips. If you ever want to pretend you’re Jesus, you can walk on the water going from ship to ship around there.

  51. 51
    sharl says:

    For folks who can read them, this tweet includes an annotated navigational chart of the area:

    cdrsalamander‏ @cdrsalamander

    The Malaysian CNO shared this pic that might be helpful.

  52. 52
    Another Scott says:

    @Mike J: Plus, in the Fitzgerald incident, the cargo ship apparently was radioing the Navy ship and telling them to get out of the way.

    The Captain is always responsible – even if the Russians were messing with GPS.

    I agree with you that someone (presumably several people) should always be on watch.

    I agree with Adam that this seems weird so soon after the Fitzgerald, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that training was changed after that accident.

    I wonder if the ships were understaffed or something… :-/


  53. 53
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I was being sarcastic, hence the sarg tags //.

  54. 54
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: No argument here.

  55. 55
    Elizabelle says:

    Sad about our 10 missing sailors, but got to admit I giggled when I heard it was the John Sidney McCain. Named for his forebears, sure, but ….

    And Trump speaking tomorrow night? National address? Don’t harsh my Eclipse mellow. If I want to see something from another world, I will watch NASA footage.

  56. 56
    ET says:

    @Yarrow: it would be interesting considering it is likely that many of them voted for him.

  57. 57
    Mike J says:

    The Alnic is underway, but only making 3.5 kts. So it’s not in great shape either.

  58. 58
    efgoldman says:


    And Trump speaking tomorrow night? National address?

    I still don’t think he can find Afghanistan on a map all by himself.

  59. 59
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    Here’s a guy who follows ships and planes. This tweet begins a thread of data.

  60. 60
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Ah, okay. I didn’t know //.

  61. 61
    sharl says:

    From the Malaysian Coast Guard, this tweet includes a map showing exact coordinates (image on right).

    Zulkifili Abu Bakar‏ @KPMaritimMsia

    #USSJohnSMcCain collision, our MRCC takes over SAR coord & assets from #MMEA , @tldm_rasmi and @PPMPDRM hv been moved to find missing crew

    Still nothing new on the missing 10 crew members. They should be near enough to sunrise by now to get some help on that front.

  62. 62
    ET says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: definitely. There is absolutely No Way he wrote that.

  63. 63
    Yarrow says:

    @efgoldman: He probably can’t find the United States on a map all by himself. He probably can’t find a map all by himself.

  64. 64
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    My kittehs are (gently) biting and scratching my ankles to let me know it is (almost, they keep trying to move the time up) time for their late-night snack. So goodnight all.

  65. 65
    Felanius Kootea says:

    @geg6: Loved that but prefer the original :-).

  66. 66
    Mike G says:

    “that’s too bad.”

    This he asked if there were any neo-Nazis among the casualties.

  67. 67
    sharl says:

    @Mike J: If you ever want to pretend you’re Jesus, you can walk on the water going from ship to ship around there.

    Yikes, I see what you mean! The twitter chatter said that was a heavily trafficked shipping lane, but that tracking map really brings it home.

  68. 68

    @Cheryl Rofer: You should always be wary of The Professor Who’s Been Warning Of x For Many Years.

  69. 69
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Mike J: In the artillery, a firing point is the responsibility of the Fire Direction Officer. He can kick anyone off the firing point – Four-star general or whatever. OTOH, if his duties call him off the FP his platoon sergeant is in control. It wasn’t a firing point incident, it was movement incident. The platoon leader goes ahead to scout the new location, and the platoon sergeant makes sure every one is good to go. The FDO simply directs the firing of the guns when they are in place.

  70. 70
    Hellbastard says:

    Enough already with “thoughts and prayers.” It’s the lazy pol’s favorite phrase…

  71. 71
    sukabi says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: that was my thought too. No way that was actually trump, too coherent, grammatically correct and totally out of character for it to be trump.

  72. 72
    rikyrah says:

    No way did he write that tweet

  73. 73
    rikyrah says:

    I am suspicious too

  74. 74
    sharl says:

    David B Larter‏ @DavidLarter 27 minutes ago

    Latest update on McCain: Flooding is reported under control. Ship is making. 3 knots through the water.

    U.S. Navy‏ @USNavy 3 minutes ago

    Additional MH-60S helicopter and MV-22 Osprey expected to arrive soon. Ship sailing under its own power and heading to Changi Naval Base.

  75. 75
    sharl says:

    From a WaPo mil reporter

    Dan Lamothe‏ @DanLamothe

    This is 4th major mishap for 7th Fleet in 2017. Collisions involving John S. McCain, Fitzgerald, Lake Champlain and grounding of Antietam.

  76. 76
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @sharl: Sounds like a flag officer has a problem too.

  77. 77
    Mike in NC says:

    @sharl: So maybe the Russians aren’t just hacking our national elections. Troublesome stuff, indeed. It will only get worse with the idiots in charge of things.

  78. 78
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sharl: So now the question is why four ships out of the same port and from the same fleet, of two different classes (two Arleigh Burkes and two Ticonderogas) have had navigation based incidents within the past 8 months. Either there is a serious training defect/deficit common to the 7th fleet or there is another problem.

  79. 79
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Mike in NC: ??????????????????

  80. 80
    Amir Khalid says:

    Off-topic, but I get mildly annoyed when I see foreign media referring to “the Malay Peninsula”. We Malaysians call it Peninsular Malaysia.

  81. 81
    james parente says:

    To sew confusion, could Russia have a way with messing with our ship’s radar arrays?
    Spoofed GPS. Inacurate or deceptive Radar. It could be an added risk factor in crowded seas.

  82. 82
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Amir Khalid: I will work on it.

    @james parente: Sew? Come on….

  83. 83
    sharl says:

    @sharl: On that 7th Fleet observation by WaPo reporter Dan Lamothe, he was getting quizzed on twitter about how other Navy commands compare with regard to comparable ship incidents. I’m sure that sort of thing will be discussed in gory details in the coming days.

    Seventh Fleet was also at the center of the infamous “Fat Leonard” scandal. I just checked on status of that, and there is still fallout coming down from that mess: Another Navy officer pleads guilty to taking bribes from ‘Fat Leonard’

    @Amir Khalid: Sooo, do you wanna grab your guitar and pop on down to Singapore, to play some soothing music for our rattled Navy folks?

  84. 84
    Amir Khalid says:

    @james parente:
    I’m puzzled: sew confusion to what?

  85. 85
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sharl: Fat Leonard was a bribery for procurement scandal. So it shouldn’t have anything to do with this.

  86. 86
    Mike J says:

    @sharl: Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald?

    Maybe go back to clamming days.

  87. 87
    sharl says:

    @Adam L Silverman: True enough, and at this point the scandal and its participants are now in the hands of military and civilian legal officials. But 7th Fleet command has gotta be hoping to catch a break from these various shitstorms.

  88. 88
    Amir Khalid says:

    The WaPo reporter was vague about Fat Leonard’s nationality. He’s Malaysian. Like me.

    If your sailors in Changi would care for a recital consisting of a few basic chords and scales, sure …

  89. 89
    Mnemosyne says:

    Well, his latest response would be appropriate if “thoughts and prayers” didn’t actually mean “I couldn’t care less.”

    And I don’t just mean that that’s how Trump uses it. That’s what it now means because idiot conservatives overused it for shit they didn’t care about.

  90. 90
    Amir Khalid says:

    I haven’t really been following Fat Leonard’s bribery case. Is the US seeking to have him extradited from here to stand trial?

  91. 91

    @Mnemosyne: Maybe “I don’t give a shit” is what Trump actually means. He’s got to be a bit distracted right now/always.

  92. 92
    sharl says:

    @Amir Khalid: Yep, it came out early on that Leonard is Malaysian, although he lived in Singapore for the most part. I finally found an article with a barely remembered photo of how he did up his Singapore “bungalow” for Christmas. The theme park was a nice touch.
    A large man who lived large.

    ETA: Just saw your later question. Fat Leonard was actually enticed to travel to San Diego, where he was promptly arrested and has been apparently spilling the beans to U.S. investigators ever since.

  93. 93
    Amir Khalid says:

    Yes, “thoughts and prayers” is a tired cliche that stinks of insincerity. But at least it’s less harmful than what that fool in the Oval Orifice would have come up with.

  94. 94
    Porlock Junior says:

    @sharl:Argh! The President himself must be demanding the highest-level investigation and talking in private about heads rolling.

    I mean, if we had one.

  95. 95
    Rjm says:

    Spoofing the encrypted military gps signals should be much, much more difficult than the civil signal. They also have good inertial nav in addition to radar, infrared, acoustic sensors. And the tanker was sending it’s position via AIS. Cascades of errors can happen, but it seems crazy in congested waters that should have prompted extra vigilance.

    Hope they find the crew safe.

  96. 96
    NotMax says:

    Who ya gonna believe, the GPS or your lying eyes?

    Watch on the deck and radar too old-fashioned to use as safeties?

  97. 97
    sharl says:

    @sharl: Here’s a 2-minute YouTube clip of a local news report covering how Fat Leonard decorated his Singapore home for Christmas every year.

    Nothing new on the missing ten sailors. At least they are well beyond sunrise by now; even if there are local visibility issues (fog or whatever), I would think things are better without nighttime darkness.

    G’night all.

  98. 98
    NotMax says:

    Just a note that Straits of Malacca is also piracy central.

  99. 99
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Aargh!

  100. 100
    Ruckus says:

    Going to speculate here.
    If we are in anything navy personnel wise like we were in the late 60s early 70s that can be an issue. At the time there was an idea that we could/should have a 600 ship navy. We were keeping WWII destroyers afloat past their lifetimes (among others) to make that happen. The ship I was on, also a DDG (prior class to the current) was short of it’s maximum crew by nearly 50 sailors. We managed OK but some jobs were short handed and some people worked a lot of extra hours when under way. It didn’t lead to any issues that I know of but it was not an ideal situation.
    Ships touch bottom more frequently than some may want to believe, our ship backed into mud in the harbor at Gitmo once. No harm, no foul. But it would have been very expensive if damage had been done, rudders/props could have been damaged. The same ship was damaged in Naples (a freighter hit her) a year before I signed on.

  101. 101

    @Elizabelle: Trump’s speaking tomorrow? Maybe I should spend the time on less painful endeavors like getting a tattoo.

  102. 102
    Amir Khalid says:

    As it has been for centuries. Herman Melville even mentions piracy in the Selat Melaka in Moby Dick. But this incident with the John McCain doesn’t seem to be pirate-related.

  103. 103
    NotMax says:


    Expecting to hear the word “surge” bandied about.


  104. 104
    Ruckus says:

    Also at 5:30am most everyone off watch would have been asleep. My bunk was just below the water line, port side aft, about 50-60 feet from the stern. If a ship hit there in the middle of the night or early morning, some people were not getting out alive.

  105. 105
    fuckwit says:

    One can also spoof ADS-B aircraft position reports. Easily. With off the shelf software.


    If one were so inclined.

    I sure hope the military uses some kind of tricky encrypted comms for all this stuff, not the easily-spoofed, completely-insecure civil versions. Also too, that they have sailors standing watch like in ye olden days too.

    Sounds like human error and/or laziness is the cause in this case, and the 7th probably should get its shit together.

  106. 106
    NotMax says:


    Curious what the protocol is for changing ship clocks to local time? Upon deployment? Upon arrival?

  107. 107
    piratedan says:

    instead of our military ships being hacked, wouldn’t it be easier to hack the systems of a merchant freighter and steer them into the Navy’s ships?

  108. 108
    Ruckus says:

    I’m not sure we did reset the clocks. I seem to recall that we used GMT as the standard. But time is a variable thing, especially these days for me and that was 44-47 yrs ago. And my phone and computer sets it’s time to local time automatically so that I don’t have to.

  109. 109

    I’ll be the first to admit to being a mere recreational l sailboat sailor, but GPS spoofing doesn’t make any sense to me for the collisions.

    Groundings are a different story, inaccurate GPS positioning could definitely put some one on course over a hidden reef or shoal. Hell, it even happens with accurate GPS coordinates — when I was taking my offshore sailing classes, the instructor told us a story about not being overly reliant on GPS and charts (at the expense of keeping a watch): someone in the Carribean hit a reef despite being in the right place and the chart saying there was plenty of depth — the problem being the chart was based on an 150-year-old British Naval survey, and the coral had grown considerably in the intervening years.

    For collision avoidance you don’t use GPS, you use radar and human eyes. The Santa Barbara Channel in California isn’t nearly as busy as the straits in question, but there’s plenty of tankers and ships doing 20-3o knots, who won’t even feel a sailboat if the Rooney over, so I was always damn sure to have all eyes on deck on the lookout whenever I had to pass the shipping lanes.

    Night sailing is considerably harder, and in a crowded sea lane, even more difficult because with the lights form so many crafts it can be hard to differentiate them.

    Not sure if fog was a factor, but fog sailing is pretty white-knuckle sailing and most non-commercial sailor avoid doing so if they can, and the few times I’ve had to do it, there was someone glued to the radar and everyone else on deck looking and listening.

    Radar spoofing seems a more likely suspect.

    That said, I’d assume your average naval vessels is far better equipped radar-wise and lookout-wise, so yeah, it seems to be a pretty epic failure of seamanship.

  110. 110
    sharl says:

    Tweet with photo of ship damage:

    Gerry Doyle‏ @mgerrydoyle 17 minutes ago

    a closer view of the damage–mostly at the waterline–to the mccain: (from this story: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/20/world/asia/uss-john-mccain-collision-merchant-ship.html …)

    About an hour ago there was a self-described unconfirmed report that seven of the ten missing sailors had been located, but no other reporters in the area bit on that one, and there’s been no further word from that reporter. So no good news yet…

  111. 111
    Ruckus says:

    Well if someone is on watch in the back room could they find my last comment and flush it out?

  112. 112
    fuckwit says:

    Nevermind about the military’s GPS. Seems like these huge tanker ships are floating battering-ram weapons running on easily-spoofed autopilot and just waiting to be hijacked. Spoof their GPS, and run them head-on into the broadside of a USN ship. Neither ship can maneuver in time to get out of the way, and you’re gambling on the USN ship not seeing the trouble in time to evade collision, since the oncoming ship is dead to port or starboard.

    Still an unproven conspiracy theory, but I can’t think of any more likely one. Would be interested on what the sailors have to say.

  113. 113
    Ruckus says:

    That would have been very close to my bunk, maybe in it. The current DDGs and the previous generation are different and while I have been on board a current one I haven’t been below decks, so that may have missed a berthing area. But I’d bet not by much.

  114. 114
    Ruckus says:

    I doubt that any ship is run with no one on the bridge and under autopilot. If that ship ran into some other ship with no one in control that would be massive liability. I would imagine that any semi competent insurance company would freak the hell out if that happened. Now automated controls are normal so that heading and speed are maintained but I’d bet there are at least 2 people on the bridge at all times, probably more in heavy shipping lanes.
    A DDG can turn pretty damn hard and fast. They are fast ships and have a lot of rudder for their size. Two collisions in a couple of months does sound fishy but then maybe they were overdo. Ships hit each other and run out of water a lot more often than one might imagine. Shipping lanes can be extremely crowded.

  115. 115
    sharl says:

    @Ruckus: There has probably been discussion on what kind of compartments are present in that part of the McCain, although I’ve missed it so far.

    I did see your other comments upthread by the way. My involvement with USN has been as a headquarters-supporting R&D guy, but my more direct involvement with ships – a brief involvement – did include seeing an early report on what led to a ship grounding in very familiar waters. That whole thing was kind of hushed up in the end, but what little I did see suggested that a number of little things – instrument failures and crew staffing and human error mostly – may well have combined to result in the grounding. I think that kind of scenario is in concurrence with your comments above.
    __ __ __ __ __ __ __

    7th Fleet‏ @US7thFleet 19 minutes ago

    #USSJohnSMcCain Update: The USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) has arrived at Changi Naval Base in Singapore. USS John S. McCain pulls into Changi Naval Base

  116. 116
    sharl says:

    From a veteran Stars & Stripes reporter –

    Erik Slavin‏ @eslavin_stripes

    Of course the focus now has to be on the 10 missing #USS_JohnSMcCain sailors and their families.

    However, after three ship accidents in one yr., the questions on how this could happen again will come much faster than w/ USS_Fitzgerald.

    In nearly 9 years covering 7th Fleet, ops tempo was always high, SW officers were always under strain, Asia has rising tensions.

    Never been such a tragic yr for Yokosuka in recent memory. Don’t know if common thread. But culture, training will be closely examined.

    Well Ruckus, looks like crew compartments are still here in the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers as well:

    Erik Slavin‏ @eslavin_stripes 1 minute ago

    Significant damage to USSMcCain led to crew compartment flooding, per 7th Fleet.

    Man I hope they find those missing sailors. One reported satellite image of the area indicates good visibility. There has apparently been some dispute over just who is in charge of search-and-rescue in those waters – it has to be between Malaysia and Singapore I assume – but I hope any such squabble doesn’t interfere with the actual SAR operations.

  117. 117
    Ruckus says:

    The link you provided did give me a better look at the ship than the closeup earlier. And the report did say berthing and machinery areas. And if that hole was in the earlier generation DDG, my rack would have been just about dead center, so to speak.

    ETA All of my comments are from my experience of 40+ yrs ago on, as I’ve said the prior generation of DDG and the navy. Some things are going to be a lot different than my experience, some are going to be exactly the same. It is the same navy after all.

  118. 118
    Origuy says:

    @Amir Khalid: It seems to me that the Malay Peninsula and Peninsular Malaysia are different things. The Malay Peninsula consists of parts of Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Peninsular Malaysia would be that part that belongs to Malaysia.

  119. 119
    Patricia Kayden says:

    @Yarrow: And then he’ll revert to his usual insanity on Tuesday in Arizona and erase all that “just became President” nonsense away. That has been his pattern.

  120. 120
    Calouste says:

    @Patricia Kayden: I wouldn’t put it pay him to draw a “joking” comparison between the ship under discussion in this thread and the Senator from Arizona of the same name.

  121. 121
    Amir Khalid says:

    The story wasn’t referring to the non-Malaysia parts of the peninsula.

  122. 122
    Robert Sneddon says:

    Seems like these huge tanker ships are floating battering-ram weapons running on easily-spoofed autopilot

    Merchant ships and especially the larger bulk carriers, tankers and container ships are optimised for sailing in a straight line at a steady speed with minimum fuel burn. Warships have a rapid manoeuvering capability built into their design and engine fitout at the cost of sailing efficiency and fuel consumption. It’s really up the the more maneuverable ship to get out of the way if a collision is imminent. I don’t know specifically what happened, it might have been a situation where an attempt to dodge another threatened collision put the McCain in front of the ship it hit.

    As for the frequency of incidents, the US Navy is the largest in the world and many ships are deployed in a lot of busy shipping areas. There are collisions between merchant ships all the time but they don’t make the news as much.

  123. 123
    rikyrah says:

    Dolt45’s response was disgusting 😠
    Does he even call the families?

  124. 124
    TerryC says:

    I was on the bridge of a navy ship when it came close to striking another ship due to the inattention of the commanding officer.

    I spent a year and a half on the bridge of a navy ship during Vietnam. I was designated the captain’s talker, which meant that I repeated the captain’s commands made on the bridge through the crude speaking tube system, to whichever appropriate departments on the ship needed to hear his commands. Nothing like radio or telephone. My role left the captain free to not worry about managing the technology.

    Without some kind of conspiracy theory, I cannot understand how these collisions are happening. We always had eyes on watch. Our closest call came in San Diego harbor. We were engaged in turning around near the submarine pens. As we did so, the admiral’s launch zoomed past.

    Our captain saluted the admiral and paid the launch very close attention. What he didn’t pay close attention to was the turn we were in the middle of. When I noticed sailors in one of the subs docked in the pens jumping out of their boat – which we were currently aimed at – and running away on the pier, I quickly moved to the other side of the bridge and yelled, “Captain,” and pointed at the subs.

    He gave the commands to complete the turn, not easy in the tight and busy harbor, and all was okay.

    I’ve always wondered how pissed off the guys who had panicked and leapt from their sub were at us.

    If they had known that less than a year later I would be instrumental, as an E-4, in getting that captain removed from command they might have cheered me!

  125. 125
  126. 126
    sharl says:

    @TerryC: Good save! There are so many stories out there from Navy vets of just-avoided major mishaps, and they usually recall their stories after something like this, starting with “There but for the grace of God…”

    Someone linked to this mid-July piece written in response to the Fitzgerald’s collision, and before the subsequent disciplinary actions taken against some of the ship’s officers and crew, The Fitzgerald’s Watch Team Could Have Been Mine. (The comments to that piece are the usual mix I’ve seen so often in pieces like that – empathy, scolding, hubris, and even some further insights – it’s all there.)

  127. 127
    infovore says:

    Personally I doubt the GPS spoofing for a number of reasons.

    As was noted already, ships do not rely on GPS to know where other ships are. (Certainly not solely.) The most likely effect of GPS spoofing is running aground, not a collision with another vessel.

    If the spoofing were area-wide, we should expect more ships getting into trouble because of it. And it were aimed at just the John S. McCain then some other vessel with some interesting antennas must have been in the neighborhood and likely even shadowing its course. The radio waves for GPS travel in a stright line through the atmosphere, so a spoofer must have line-of-sight with the target for the duration.

    And finally this seems to be a risky way with very low pay-off of revealing a major capability. If you were a government that could spoof GPS, would you really use it like this?

    So I think human error more likely. In a trite sense that is of course true of virtually all accidents: go back along the chain of causation far enough and you can always find someone who should have done something differently. But you also need to determine why those actions seemed like a good idea at the time. A common pattern is that people have been doing that same thing since forever, and it’s just that this time was different because something unlikely happened at the same time.

    At this point I would be looking at such things as whether the crew was paying attention to the right things in order to safely navigate through crowded waters at night. Maybe they were too fixated on remote threats that might shoot at them, and as a result overlooked a ship that would merely ram them. On the technical side, I wonder whether the radar / ship tracking systems may be failing if it has too many ships to track. Or (shades of Vincennes) if the interface presented to the crew in crowded conditions “hides” some need-to-know information.

  128. 128
    Ruckus says:

    @Robert Sneddon:
    We read that the navy ship hit the much larger ship. But that hole in the side is from the bow of the bigger ship hitting the navy ship. It wasn’t a scrap or running the bow into the bigger ship. The navy ship may have been, most likely was at fault for being in the way, because it is the smaller ship, and it is far more maneuverable than the bigger ship but it had to turn in front of the other ship or cross in front of it without clearance to be hit like that.

  129. 129
    Stan says:


    GPS spoofing doesn’t really make much sense

    GPS spoofing makes a massive amount of sense. I have no clue what the Navy uses it for but the Army uses it for so much stuff its pretty scary to think it’s being spoofed. To take one obvious example, imagine your friendly GPS equipment is tracking your unit’s location and you need to fire some artillery at a nearby target. Now imagine those coordinates are wrong.

  130. 130
    sharl says:

    Since the possibility of a cyber attack on the USS John S. McCain has been raised by numerous folks pretty much from the get-go – in this thread and beyond – here is the latest from ADM John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) [lightly edited for clarity]

    To clarify Re: possibility of cyber intrusion or sabotage, no indications right now…but review will consider all possibilities— Adm. John Richardson (@CNORichardson) August 21, 2017

    I think that’s about the only thing he could possibly say at this point. I figured this should go into this thread before it recedes into the temporal mists, just for the record.

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